Probability 1: Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe

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9780151003761: Probability 1: Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe

At one level, this book surveys recent findings about the existence of planets orbiting other sun-like stars, such as 51 Pegasi (discovered in 1995) and Tau Bootis. It addresses questions such as what life is and what intelligent life is, as well as theories about how life evolved on Earth from basic molecules into more complex organic compounds leading to DNA. The existence of similar molecules on other planets in our solar system, as well as in meteorites that land on Earth every year, are used in an argument for the evolution of such compounds - the building blocks of life - outside Earth. At the same time, the author applies the laws of large numbers to the immense size of the known universe, with its billions of galaxies, each containing many billions of stars, to argue the probability that there is life elsewhere.

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Review:

In a universe infinitely large, what is the probability of intelligent life on another planet? Sounds like a trick question, but for anyone versed in cosmology and statistics, the answer is 1; that is, there must be life on at least one other planet in the universe. This is Amir Aczel's theorem. But, as physicist Enrico Fermi once asked, if that's true, where is everyone? Aczel tackles that paradox after he goes through the statistical calculations for the probability of intelligent life, considering factors such as how many stars are in a galaxy, how many of those stars might be hospitable, how many might have planets, and how many planets might have environments suitable to support life as we know it (or as we don't).

Aczel also provides an overview of the relevant developments in astronomy and biology, laying the groundwork to show that the universe's chemistry must add up to life. Whether life was spread through the universe by chunks of debris like ALH84001--the enigmatic meteorite from Mars that contained tantalising hints of the possibility of life--or arose independently, Aczel is sure it is out there. After teasing readers with scientific history, Probability 1 delivers on its promise to prove Aczel's conjecture through a clearly explained application of known statistical theory to the chaos of the universe.--Therese Littleton, Amazon.com

Review:

* "...does a superb job of creating in the nonmathematical reader the illusion of comprehension" -- NEW YORKER

FERMAT'S LAST THEOREM * "Fascinating and compelling" -- SUNDAY TIMES

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